I can't list all the possibilities, but if you take a little time, ask a few questions, you can figure some things out. If you ask about favorite memories or traditions or what they did every spring or fall, you may be surprised at how much you can find out. People like to tell stories. They like to remember. They like that people want to hear.
It is a heart-lifting surprise when someone gives you room to remember instead of telling you to forget.
Maybe it is a trip to see fall leaves every year.
Maybe it is putting in the flowers or a trip to the beach or opening day of movies.
Maybe it is putting up lights for Christmas or tailgating at a football game or visiting a flea market.
Maybe it is watching fireworks or attending musicals or just a special day.
What do you say once you know? Say something honest.
"I know you and (the person you love) did (this thing). I was wondering, would you like some company? Would you like someone to do that with you? If not, would you like to do something totally different? I know it must be hard to do by yourself. I'll do it with you, or we can do something else. Just tell me what you need."
Or, just show up.
I have no idea how many times I wish someone had just shown up at my door and said, "I'm taking you to (coffee, dinner, the theatre, the botanical gardens...anywhere but here."
I have found two obstacles when it came to asking for help.
1. Being in pain is exhausting. Simply trying to get the kids and myself through the day...especially on days when I really needed someone to step in and help me breathe...just doing what had to be done took all my energy. I couldn't think of what I needed or how anyone could help. Even when people asked what I needed, I had no answer.
2. I had asked for help, for company, for simple presence, and the responses had hurt. I was already drained. I refused to risk inflicting more mental or emotional pain on myself.
I thank God for those I never had to ask.
My husband had moved out. My mom was dying of cancer. My kids were trying to find their way through the rage and pain. I was tired on every level.
I wrote a simple text.
"I can't put two thoughts together."
A few minutes later my phone rang.
John asked me a few questions, told me to get pen and paper, and gave me the plan to get me through the weekend. I had to think about nothing. It was a Godsend.
Valentine's Day is hard. Rob died around 12:30 am on February 15th. We associate it with Valentine's. The emotional tsunami that hit last year felt suffocating. My kids were in unbelievable pain. I was trying to get through the day as a woman who had not been single in nearly 24 years....as a wife who was still trying to figure out what had gone wrong with her marriage...and as a person whose friend had died.
I hurt. Dear Lord in heaven, how I hurt.
And that day people texted and emailed. Told me they were praying. Confessed they had no idea how hard it must be but they were standing with me in their hearts, thoughts, and prayers.
And then there were the flowers and the DVD.
My friend Kristi had been praying for a month about how to love me on Valentine's Day, and the Lord had answered.
She gave me a beautiful bouquet and the Courageous DVD. I have never loved cut flowers so much. I watched Courageous and cried. It was more than a movie. It was an answer to prayer. I had asked the Lord how I'm supposed to be a mom and a dad, and He showed me all He wanted was for me to be courageous, to fight the good fight, to be a good example. If I could instill His character, the kids would come through okay. He is the answer. I simply had to live courageously in Him.
Kristi had no idea about my prayer or my heart...or how hard it can be to be a mom and dad. She only knew her friend was facing Valentine's alone, and she wanted to help. So she prayed and asked the Counselor, the peace Prince...the One who is with me constantly...and she put love into action.
Birthdays are hard, whether it be having a birthday without someone...or finding the way through the birthday of the one lost. When our friend Lonnie died, multiple friends graced his wife with her favorite flowers on her birthday, just like he did. Sure she cried, but it was a good cry.
Anniversaries are hard. I've spent the last two anniversaries doing vulnteer work. It kept me busy all day, and I was so exhausted when I got home I showered and fell asleep.
Some events are hard. Watching WonderGirl be Willie Wonka, the character her dad had always wanted to be, tested my ability to keep breathing. Thank the Lord we were surrounded by a few dozen friends who held my hand, offered a shoulder, and gave a standing ovation for WonderGirl's courage.
The way to be present varies from person to person because the empty places, the hurting spots, vary with each relationship and with each life. It doesn't take a huge presence to make a huge difference, though. Some courage to invade space, a bit of time, and the willingness to see beyond the platitudes hurting people so often dole out will speak love greater than you can imagine.
You may never know how much your presence is needed in a day, how much strength it gives, or how deeply appreciated it is because honestly, for love like that, there are no real words...only heart deep gratitude.
Presence like that isn't the easiest thing to do...but it is a powerful thing to do.